If Slavisa Jokanovic has indeed won a power struggle with Craig Kline after the latter’s abrupt departure from Craven Cottage, the Fulham head coach wasn’t in the mood to celebrate after team were outplayed and out-thought by Lee Johnson’s bright Bristol City side. The Robins – fast becoming Fulham’s bogey side – extended their hosts winless streak to four matches with a display of vibrant attacking football that cut through a porous defence on numerous occasions in a breathless fast half.
Jokanovic was honest enough to admit afterwards that his ditching of the tried and tested 4-3-3 in favour of the in vogue three-man backline ‘didn’t work’. City, so confident on their travels having embarked on an unbeaten run that stretches back to August 12, could have been well in front before the brilliant Bobby Reid and tireless midfielder Korey Smith finished off flowing counter-attacks to give the visitors a two-goal advantage at the break. Reid reached double figures for the first time in his career – an astounding statistic given that we are not yet even in November – with a clinical finish from inside the six-yard box after Fulham had missed two chances to halt City’s quick counter-attack.
An exceedingly open first half promised goalmouth opportunities right from the outset, with Joe Bryan whistling a drive over from the edge of the box after barely 20 seconds. Stefan Johansen made a grave error in presenting the ball to Calum O’Dowda and the Republic of Ireland international was only denied by a brave bit of improvisation from David Button. The hosts did have chances before they went behind with Ryan Sessegnon clipping the crossbar with a rising drive and the England youth international dragged a shot wide a minute later as Fulham sought to up the pressure. Tom Cairney scuffed an effort from range after pouncing on a weak clearance from Frankie Fielding and the Fulham captain’s lack of composure proved costly.
City went straight up the other end and doubled their lead. O’Dowda skipped away from Ream’s attentions as though he was without a care in the world and then had plenty of time to pick out Korey Smith, who couldn’t fail to score his first Robins goal, from point-blank range. Jokanovic shook things up throwing on Ollie Norwood and Rui Fonte in a bid to revive his team, but the visitors never looked as vulnerable as Preston went defending such a commanding lead.
Indeed, if anything it was Johnson’s side who looked likely to score again. Sessegnon produced a heroic bit of defending to prevent O’Dowda from converting Reid’s cross and Button did well to push away a powerful effort from Bryan, who had surged forward from full-back. Any hope the home side had of hauling themselves back into the game disappeared with Aboubakar Kamara, who was dismissed for raising his hands towards Bailey Wright.
City looked largely comfortable for the remaining quarter of the contest, only surviving a scare when, after Fielding had stupendously pushed away Kevin McDonald’s effort from inside the six yard box, Stefan Johansen lifted a drive wastefully over the bar and in the Hammersmith. The Robins had a third goal ruled out for offside and Rafa Soares, making his long-awaited Fulham debut after being loaned in from Poro, did hint at a bright moment or two with several promising runs down the flanks.
Fulham finished the game flat and devoid of ideas. The brooding Jokanovic cut a frustrated figure on the touchline, largely impotent after Kamara’s early bath, and now has some work to return his side to the sort of outfit that could so easily have gone up last year. Johnson, who came under serious pressure last February following a defeat to Fulham at Ashton Gate, is now enjoying a renaissance as one of the country’s brightest coaches – and, on this evidence, there’s no telling how high the Robins might soar.
FULHAM (3-5-2): Button; Kalas (Norwood 45), Odoi, Ream; Fredericks, R. Sessegnon, McDonald, Johansen (Rafa Soares 67), Cairney; Kamara, Ayite (Fonte 45). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Djalo, de la Torre, Kebano.
SENT OFF: Kamara (63).
BRISTOL CITY (4-1-4-1): Fielding, Pisano (Magnusson 9), Bryan, Flint, Wright; Pack (Djuric 77); Brownhill, Smith, O’Dowda, Patterson (Leko 69); Reid. Subs (not used): Steele, Vyner, Eliasson, Taylor.
BOOKED: Flint, Wright.
GOALS: Reid (29), Smith (40).
REFEREE: Scott Duncan (Newcastle-upon-Tyne).